EAST LANSING — Get it all out of the way right away, Michigan State, so we can get to that Oregon game.
It took just four offensive plays for the No. 8 Spartans to thrill their fans with a big play for a touchdown and hush them with an injury scare – Connor Cook taking a nasty, low hit from Folo Johnson on a 64-yardscoring loft to Tony Lippett, then limping off before returning.
It took one defensive play for new MSU starting cornerback Darian Hicks to get tested and give up a big play, three more for him to get tested and deliver perfect coverage, then another four series for him to get his first interception.
It took less than a quarter for the Spartans to turn their season opener against Jacksonville State into a 45-7 laugher – it was 21-0 with 3:35 left in the first quarter, giving MSU more offensive touchdowns than it had after two games last season – and thoughts toward the No. 3 Ducks.
The FCS Gamecocks didn't look up to the task in any way in a blowout loss that was 38-0 at halftime, but the Spartans look ready for a real game. They can watch the Ducks open with South Dakota on Saturday, then they'll travel to Autzen Stadium a week from Saturday (6:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1) for perhaps the most important nonleague game of the college football season.
Cook and the MSU offense just kept building off their Big Ten title game and Rose Bowl performances from last season, victimizing the hapless Gamecocks through the air. Cook was 12-for-13 for 285 yards and three touchdowns in one half of work – giving him 921 yards passing in his past three games, with just 10 quarters of play.
Lippett followed up the 64-yard touchdown catch with a beastly 71-yard scoring catch and run, and the senior finished with four grabs for 167 yards. Walk-on AJ Troup, back after his third knee surgery, had a dazzling touchdown grab.
Backup running back Nick Hill scored on a pair of nifty runs. Tight end Josiah Price made some plays. Senior wideout Keith Mumphery gained 43 yards on a Cook escape, roll left and perfect loft.
It was the retooled MSU defense, though, that was the area of larger interest. Expected to be tested by JSU's high-tempo spread offense – an offense that somewhat resembles Oregon's – it instead yielded nothing until long after the game was decided.
Hicks recovered from yielding a 32-yard reception on the first play to play well in the face of frequent shots, as 2013 Thorpe Award winner Darqueze Dennard watched from the sideline. Senior linebacker Taiwan Jones seemed to have a strong grasp of things despite thefast pace.
Senior safety Kurtis Drummond led the secondary with a pick and some big hits, and junior linebacker Ed Davis, junior defensive end Shilique Calhoun and redshirt freshman defensive end Demetrius Cooper all had sacks. The defense was far from perfect, but it more than passed what was supposed to be a credible test.
A much, much bigger one awaits. After the Spartans cruised to a huge lead, the main priority in front of a nearly packed house of 75,127 was getting out of the night without major injuries. Jeremy Langford limped off in the first half but appeared to be OK.
There was less certainty late in the game about the status of starting left guard Travis Jackson (undisclosed) and receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr. (leg).